I never knew Roy Halladay as a Blue Jay.
It seems blasphemous to admit this, as if I carry a Blue Jays fan badge which will be revoked at the mere suggestion that I didn’t see every single one of his starts. I saw none of them. Nothing until a year after he’d been traded to the Phillies, when I watched him start the All-Star Game and lose in the playoffs to Chris Carpenter. The trade itself, back in 2009, was one of the first baseball events I ever actually noticed— it was the talk of the town, obviously, and I had almost no idea who he was.
Sometime after the 2010 playoffs, I went to a party where someone lamented having lost Halladay. Feeling smart that I actually knew the name of a current and good Blue Jay (how far we come, I guess), I said “well, at least we have Jose Bautista,” vaguely aware that it wasn’t quite the same—uh, I think one of them hits the ball and one of them pitches it? “I guess.”
Roy Halladay retired yesterday. Even though I’ve only known him a few years, it feels exceedingly strange to say that. I just assumed we would have so many more chances to see him be Doc, even if he wasn’t who he once was. He came back in July 2011, only a few months after I dove into baseball; Jose Bautista hit a home run off him, and I was listening intently on the radio, remembering that party and imagining them playing side by side. I never saw him pitch in person.
All this seems particularly poignant because Jarome Iginla is playing against the Calgary Flames tonight, and for all the hero I never had in Roy Halladay, I had it—have it—in Jarome. I never knew the Calgary Flames without him. He arrived when I was six years old and I don’t remember that trade even a little—at the first game I went to, two years later, he was there. He was always there. For so many of us, there were no Flames without that creased-forehead smile and the hundreds and hundreds of goal celebrations, year after year after year.
Jarome meant everything to us. He was the beacon of hope that we still had a chance, that 2004 would end in joy instead of wrenching disappointment, that he could pull the team through its darkest days into a chance to hoist the Cup after fifteen, sixteen, seventeen years. And even though we could all feel it coming, letting him go was one of the most surreal moments of my sports life—seeing the press conference where they announced it for real, that first sad Flames game without him, and the afternoon when we turned on our TVs to see him in the Penguins blue thirds, skating with guys who weren’t ours.
I don’t have personal memories about Doc, but I imagine that if I did, they wouldn’t be so different. He, too, was one of the best his team had ever seen. He brought fans together and gave them hope. And he felt such a connection to the team that he signed a one-day contract in order to retire a Blue Jay, an acknowledgment of the consuming emotional ties of sports. Roy Halladay retired without ever pitching in a World Series, foiled by the luck of baseball and a mortal body—sometimes life is just not magic enough.
I don’t think it’s reaching too far to say that in some ways I project Iginla onto Halladay, and a little vice versa—if I’d known Halladay in his Toronto years, or even his first as a Phillie, I’d have loved him with every part of myself, in that way you love sports heroes that transcends all other boundaries. Blue Jays fans still rooted for him after he left, and Calgary picked up where they’d left off with Jarome in Pittsburgh. Both deserve piles of championships, and I’m truly sorry we’ll never see Halladay celebrate one on the mound. All I can do is hope that Jarome doesn’t end up that way, too. I don’t want to regret another thing I’ll never see.